Posts Tagged ‘L pod’

Whales on the West Side

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

It was a beautiful day out on the water today with clear views of Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier, the Olympics and the Cascades! Myself, Caitlin, and Captain Mike were eager to see some wildlife and so were the guests. Heading southward, we got an awesome viewing of several hauled out Harbor Seals on Turn Rock! We made our way around the south end of the island past scenic Cattle Point continued northward along the west side. Here, we were lucky enough to spot 3 members of L-Pod!! It was Spirit L-22 and her two sons Solstice L-89 and Skana L-79. Our guests got several great views of these 3 resident orcas, who spent quite a long time surfacing and milling about.

A couple guests asked the question, “So are there any animals above killer whales on the food chain?” I told them that in fact, other than humans, orca whales maintain the spot as top predator on the marine food chain. Aside from the 2 most commonly seen ecotypes of orcas here in the Salish Sea (Southern Residents which eat mainly Chinook Salmon and Transients with eat marine mammals) there is another ecotype called an Offshore Orca whose diet consists mainly of sharks. All in all, we and our guests thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon trip with whales, seals, and beautiful weather!

Meg – Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

Tucker, The Orca Poop Sniffing Dog!

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

The great weather continued today as Captain Jim, passengers, and I sped up along the west side of San Juan Island to meet up with a few L Pod members. As you might have read in earlier posts, L-22, Spirit, and her two sons, L-79, Skana, and Solstice, L-89, have been consistently found milling along the west side of San Juan this summer. Today was no exception!  They seemed to be the only show in town, since all the boats were out and about, including the University of Washington, Center for Conservation Biology’s boat.

The Center for Conservation Biology is a program that utilizes canines to help acquire fecal samples left behind by our Southern Resident Orcas. The researchers will follow in a zig-zag pattern downwind of the orcas, so that Tucker, the poop sniffing dog, can smell the samples. It is said that Tucker can smell a sample up to a mile away!  Once upon the sample, Tucker is rewarded with a game of tug-o-war while researchers use their specially designed poop scoopers to grab the sample. Not a bad life! From these samples researchers are able to study stress, nutrition, and reproductive hormones found in the resident orcas. It is an important study that can help shed light on the instability of our resident community, as well as, give whale watchers pause as they watch Tucker go about his daily job!


Caitlin, Naturalist- M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris

Who’s Who in J, K, and L Pod.

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Heading north out of Friday Harbor, Captain Craig, Andrew, our eager guests, and I crossed the Canadian boundary line in search of the elusive K Pod. Up until two days ago, K Pod had yet to show their beautiful black and white faces in our region. Once across the boundary line, we met up with a few K Pod members interspersed with J Pod members. It was great to see K Pod out and about!

After we left the group of  J and K Pod, we decided to try our luck a little bit south where we intersected with a few L Pod members. Although the pods weren’t all together, it was an amazing opportunity for our guests, as well as our crew, to see members of all 3 Southern Residents!

As of now, K Pod has 19 individuals in their pod, which makes them the smallest of the 3 resident pods found in the Salish Sea. The other two resident pods found here are J and L pod. J Pod has 26 members, and L Pod has 37, making L Pod the largest of the Southern Resident Community. Each year, researchers do a roll call to see who has returned, who hasn’t, and if there are any new additions to the pods. As of July 1st, 2013, we have a total of 82 individuals!


Caitlin, Naturalist- M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

J Pod and L Pod, Here To Stay?

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Today, Captain Mike, a few quests, and myself headed up northeast towards Lummi Island where we intercepted J Pod steadily moving east. Like Andrew mentioned in yesterdays blog, the community has been anxiously awaiting the return of our residents pods and were overjoyed to hear of a superpod traversing through our area. The resident pods seemed to have split up by the time our afternoon and sunset trip rolled around.

However, that didn’t stop us from seeing whales today! Earlier in the day we were able to meet up with L Pod, who was grouped together closely hugging the shoreline of Saturna Island in a “resting” pattern. Resting patterns are a way that orcas can go into a half awake, half asleep state. Being marine mammals, they need to be able to breathe air consistently.  Using a resting pattern allows orcas to surface, while turning off portions of their brain to recover, and still be aware of their surroundings.

However, in the evening trip,  J Pod was doing anything but resting. On our sunset tour, J Pod, who we haven’t seen for over a month now, gave us a great showing. Below the sheer cliff drops of Lummi Island was a spread out group of J Pod. All along the Lummi coastline our guest were spotting blows, until quite quickly the entire group switched directions and headed towards Sinclair Island.

Over by Sinclair Island, the depth is only 5 to 10 feet in some areas that the pod was foraging! This could be a tactic used by the orcas to limit the amount of space available for salmon to maneuver in. This wasn’t the only foraging techniques guests saw, we also got to see a myriad of barrel-rolls, tail and pectoral slaps, spy-hops, and the occasional breaching! It was a great way to welcome J Pod back to the San Juan Islands and hopefully this active group sticks around for longer!


Caitlin, Naturalist- M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Identity Crisis and Good Luck Charms

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

What an amazing trip we had today! The wind was minimal, the water was like glass, and the guests were fabulous. The wildlife was simply “steller” as well. In fact, we actually saw a male and female Steller Sea Lion on Whale Rocks at the south end of San Juan Island right off of Cattle Pass! Steller Sea Lions aren’t seen as frequently as our Harbor Seals and can weigh up to two ton! Aimee and I were quite pleased with the sighting.

After watching the Sea Lion, Captain Mike wanted to visit his favorite whales- the Minkes. As always, I just wanted to see the Killer Whales, but we chugged out to Salmon Bank anyway. It sure is a good thing too, the Minkes were everywhere! They surrounded us for about twenty minutes coming up just yards from all sides of our boat! They were lung feeding so we got a clear view of their pleats of baleen as well (all 500-700 strands of it)! I was certainly amused, and was even sad to leave them to go catch up with our Southern Resident Killer Whales. Who would have thought, me, sad to go see the Orcas!? Those Minkes sure did the trick!

When we got to our three family members, L-22, L-79 and L-89 were there waiting. As I’ve said in previous blogs, you really need to keep your eye on Spirit- L-22. She never ceases to surprise me. As soon as we got close, she lept right out of the water in a full breach. It looks to me like she is very much enjoying all of the attention she is getting. Throughout our time with her and her two sons (Skanna and Solstice), Sprit proceeded to breach, tail slap, and provide us all with amazing views. I’m really starting to develop a soft spot for her.

We also had a Minke in the group of Killer Whales that seemed to be having somewhat of an identity crisis. It was swimming with the L-Pod members and coming close to our boat as well. It became clear when the Minke whale jumped clear out of the water in a breach that this whale was having some serious misidentification issues. I’ve been watching whales since I was six. I have NEVER seen a Minke whale breach. Minke whales spend about 90% of their time under water, seeing one breach was incredibly rare. Amy and I were literally hopping for joy!  We were all elate! We firmly believe that our guests on board tonight were our good luck charms. It was a night like no other (as they all seem to be). Captain Mike was especially happy with the show; Minke whales are after all, his favorite. I hope to see each and every one of my readers on the water soon to share in these magical moments!!!

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

L-Pod on the 4th!

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Happy Forth of July everyone! It has been a fantastic day so far! We left our Friday Harbor location and headed out to the west side of the island near False Bay where we met some of our L-Pod members. Spirit, Skanna, and Solstice were there feeding on the Chinook Salmon that are slowly retuning back to the Salish Sea. Our Southern Resident Orcas will stay with their mother and family group their whole life; this means that our Orcas here have matriarchal societies. Spirit is Skanna and Solstice’s mother!

The whales were having a great time feeding and doing some tail slapping; it is great to have them back in the area again! Since we were right off of Lime Kiln Lighthouse, it was just as fast to go around the north side of the Island; therefore, our guests got to see all of San Juan Island! Along our way around the island, we saw Harbor Seals, Harbor Porpoise, and even a mated pair of Bald Eagles and their nest! Happy Fourth of July everyone!

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Mother Nature Gears Up For The 4th.

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

4th of July is right around the corner and the whales are here to help celebrate! Captain Craig, Andrew, and myself had two great trips today. We started the day off right with brilliant blue skies and not a cloud in sight. Our afternoon trip had a boat full of eager passengers ready to spot some resident orcas. With binoculars at the ready, we cruised along the west side of San Juan Island till we encountered a subgroup of L Pod. The group we watched for the remainder of our afternoon trip included: Spirit, L-22, and her two sons, Skana, L-79, and Solstice, L-89. We watched as this family foraged until it was time to head back in and get ready for our evening trip!

Unlike our afternoon trip, the evening trip had much more tempestuous seas heading south out of Friday Harbor. As we were passing through Cattle Pass, crew and passengers got to experience first hand just how fickle Mother Nature can be. Outfitted with bright yellow rain slickers, and holding on tight to railings, we were ready to brave the high seas in search of  L Pod. Once we passed Cattle Pass and made our way up past False Bay, the seas changed dramatically. Gone were the rocky seas, and replaced with glassy water. We were able to watch the same group of L Pod that we saw earlier in the day in smooth seas. Everyone, including the crew, was happy with the change! Instead of heading back into the tumultuous seas, Captain Craig took us north around San Juan Island. This gave passengers a full tour around San Juan Island! It was a great trip to be able to see all of San Juan, and also how drastic the change in seas can be from one location to the next! Aside from my very wet shoes, it was a great day on the water!


Caitlin, Naturalist- M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Stellar Sea Lions and L Pod Spotted!!

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

On our sunset tour today, Captain Mike, our guests, and I got to spend our evening enjoying a subgroup of  L Pod right off the west side of San Juan Island. They greeted us right off of Eagle Point and slowly meandered back and forth searching for Chinook Salmon. For the most part they stayed off in the distance minding their own business until suddenly the changed direction underwater and surfaced near our boat, rewarding us with a few tail slaps. Our passengers had their cameras poised and ready for the action and were able to walk away with some great shots of our resident orcas. Our guest were not only rewarded with a unique look at the residents, but they also got a rare glimpse of two Stellar Sea Lions! Generally, Stellars migrate up north towards Alaskan waters during this time, so it was great to see a few this late into the summer. Overall, it was a beautiful day on the water with great company! Can’t ask for much more!


Caitlin, Naturlist- M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris


Best Trip Ever !

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

As the sun was looming low in the sky, the Sea Lion headed out once more to show our guests a wonderful time with our Southern Resident Killer Whales. We headed out through the whirling up-wells in the San Juan Channel and met our whales in Cattle Pass. We met them with as much excitement as they appeared to be feeling! Some L-Pod members were in the Pass; they were already breaching, tail slapping, and traveling close together. They swam increasingly close to Goose Island, jumping out of the water, rolling over onto their backs, cartwheeling through the water … it was amazing!

The whales jumped and carried on around Goose Island and were heading south to meet up with more of L-Pod. Two family groups were coming together and were about to collide with power and enthusiasm. Captain Mike re-positioned the boat and we waited in anticipation for the two groups to meet, and when they did it was spectacular! I’ve read that when two family groups, or pods, meet up they celebrate. This was certainly the case, and it was the best celebration I’ve ever witnessed as a naturalist. Whales were breaching out of the water in synchronicity, three at a time sometimes, tail slapping, rolling, spyhoping etc. Calves were breaching with excitement, and continued to do so long after the older females began to settle. We even heard them all vocalizing when we dropped the hydrophone into the water. If I could understand Orca, I would say they were happy to be reunited!

I felt very fortunate to whiteness this family gathering. This was the best example of how intelligent and social these graceful beings are. We are just now beginning to understand how deep our Resident Orcas social structure and culture is rooted in them. They have traditions and vocalization styles all of their own, it is unique. It is thought that these family’s have inhabited the Salish Sea since the last ice age and it shows. What myself, Captain Mike and our guests saw tonight was a small part of history in the making. It was magical.

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Safaris

Whales and Lighthouses.

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

Today, Captain Jim and myself, got to spend our afternoon a little differently since we had a charter on the M/V Kittiwake. This charter was special because we got a great family from Chicago, Illinois, who had an affinity for lighthouses! I got to “wow” them with my endless knowledge of lighthouses, or at least about the lighthouses on San Juan Island. As we took a leisurely drive along the west side of San Juan Island, we were able to see both Cattle Point and Lime Kiln Lighthouses. Both of these lighthouses are run on solar energy, and are completely automated. Lime Kiln was the last of the lighthouses to be fully automated in 1950, when they finally made the switch from incandescent oil vapor lamp to an electric bulb. Lime Kiln is also the site of Lime Kiln Whale Watching Park! Today was a great day for those frequenting the shores of Lime Kiln, as well as our passengers aboard, when we came across a large group of L Pod. Not only did we get to take a closer look at lighthouses but we also got to see L Pod breaching! All in all, a great day to spend our Saturdays.

Caitlin, Naturalist- M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris